February 28, 2007

Tennessee Law Blog Highlights Ombuds

A blog published by Branham & Day, summarizes the benefits of an ombuds for business. According to attorney Rachel L. Waterhouse, "The bottom line is that hiring an ombudsman is a little money spent internally to save a lot of money being sent externally to litigators." (Tennessee Business Litigation Law Blog.)

Maricopa County Approves Plan for College Ombuds

The governing board of the Maricopa County Community College District unanimously approved 40 policy changes recommended by a panel of outside auditors and accountants. Those changes, which are intended to prevent employee fraud, included the creation of an ombudsman and a whistle-blower hot line. (East Valley Tribune; related post Panel Recommends Ombuds for Maricopa Community College District.)

Despite Some Council Concerns, Mayor Continues to Back Ombuds for DC Schools

During the final public hearing on Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's plan to take over the District of Columbia's public schools, a majority of D.C. Council members voiced approval for the proposal. Council Member David Catania expressed some reservation that the ombudsman would circumvent checks and balances within the system. Other council members suggested that they favor amendments that could allow the board to appoint the proposed school ombudsman, instead of the mayor. However, Fenty said he saw no need to change his current plan. (Examiner; Washington Post; related post DC Council to Consider Public Schools Ombuds.)

February 26, 2007

More States Considering Academic Ombuds for "Intellectual Diversity"

Missouri, Georgia and South Dakota are actively considering laws modeled on draft legislation written by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), a conservative group that declaims the purported lack of intellectual diversity in the higher education. Among other steps, the legislation would require public colleges and universities to "Create an institutional ombudsman on intellectual diversity." Although the various bills do not define the role of the proposed ombuds, an ACTA white paper explains:
Some universities have a campus ombudsman who has fact-finding responsibilities on a range of issues, but no authority to take action. What makes the ombudsman’s report special is that it goes directly to the governing board. This post is usually held by a respected faculty member on a limited-term appointment, but it can also be assigned to a retired professor or someone off campus. Intellectual diversity concerns could be added to the portfolio of the ombudsman. Or a special ombudsman for intellectual diversity could be created.

Similar measures have been defeated recently in Virginia and Montana. (For more information on the Missouri legislation see The Turner Report and HB 213; for Georgia, see HB 154; for South Dakota, see Rapid City Journal and HB 1222; the legislation that lost in Virginia Free Exchange on Campus and HB 1643; related post, Bill to Create State-Wide University Ombuds Offices Defeated in Montana. For information on ACTA, see their website: ACTA and report: Intellectual Diversity: A Time for Action.)

So here's a rare editorial...
However you may feel about ACTA's goals personally, ombuds should not be passive and let a special interest group redefine the profession. This is an issue IOA should consider confronting.

After Student Death, Eastern Michigan Ombuds Acts as University Spokesperson

In the weeks after a student died in on-campus housing at Eastern Michigan University, students have become restive over the lack of information from administrators. After another student was arrested as a suspect, it was EMU's ombudsperson, Gregory Peoples who provided details. Peoples also promised that the University would be more transparent about investigations in the future. Peoples is also Dean of Students, which raises the question of why he would be quoted as the ombudsperson instead. (Grand Rapids Press; EMU Echo.)

February 25, 2007

New Ombuds Directory

Monique Pierel has launched a directory of links to classical and organizational ombuds offices and related resources:
  • Media Ombuds
  • Corporate Ombuds
  • University Ombuds
  • Government Ombuds
  • Hospital/Nursing Homes
  • Solo Practitioners
  • Organizations/Training
According to the site, "The building of this directory resulted from a graduate level research project on conflict studies." (OmbudsDirectory.com)

Three-Step Plan to Overcome Worry

Ombuds regularly work with visitors worried about how to resolve their conflict. It turns out, the basic ombuds approach is consistent with standard advice for worriers in general. According to Dr. Edward Hallowell, author of Worry: Hope and Help for a Common Condition, a simple three-step plan will help 95 percent of people overcome their worries.
  1. Never worry alone. Talk to somebody about your worries.
  2. Get the facts, because usually toxic worry is based on wrong information or lack of information.
  3. Make a plan. Take an active, constructive step.
(Worry was the theme of this week's 20/20 on ABC.)

February 24, 2007

ICANN Ombuds Catches Flack in French

Frank Fowlie's involvement in the kerfuffle over embattled domain registrar RegisterFly.com continues to draw commentary from the online community. French blogger, Stéphane Van Gelder wonders, "A quoi sert l'ombudsman de l'ICANN ?" (What's the Point of an Ombudsman for ICANN). He writes:
The Anglo Saxons have a mediation culture. In business they have set up an official to carry out such function. The ombudsman is the mediator whose job is to try to defuse potential crises. But does ICANN really have a need for such an official?

(Chronique de Stéphan Van Gelder via nipc IP/it Update; related post ICANN Ombuds Responds to Criticism.)

University of Georgia Names Ombuds

The director of the University of Georgia's Greek Life Office has been named to a newly created position as student affairs ombudsman and associate dean for student and family support. Claudia Shamp will oversee the handling of complaints from students, parents and community members. In addition, Shamp will serve as a liaison between UGA and groups that raise money for the university and family-themed events on campus. (Athens Banner Herald subscription.)

February 23, 2007

Bill to Create State-Wide University Ombuds Offices Defeated in Montana

A state bill that would have encouraged Montana's colleges and universities to include more conservative faculty members failed in the House of Representatives Thursday. The bill would have cost nearly $350,000 a year to enforce, mainly because each college and university would have had to hire an "institutional ombudsman on intellectual diversity," according to the bill's fiscal note. (Great Falls Tribune; Text of Mont. HB 525.)

February 22, 2007

Study: One "Bad Apple" Spoils the Whole Office

Researchers at the University of Washington have confirmed what ombuds already know: One "bad apple" can spread negative behavior like a virus to bring down officemates or destroy a good team. Negative behavior outweighs positive behavior, so a bad apple can spoil the whole barrel, but one or two good workers can't "unspoil" it. "Companies need to move quickly to deal with such problems because the negativity of just one individual is pervasive and destructive and can spread quickly," said co-author Terence Mitchell, a professor of management and organization. The results are published in the current issue of the journal Research in Organizational Behaviour. (Yahoo News.)

Balloting Begins for IOA Board

IOA has announced the slate of candidates for the board of directors. Balloting will take place electronically. In addition to the candidates' statements provided by IOA, additional public information for some candidates is available from the Internet:
Five board members will be chosen. Results will be announced after balloting closes March 7.

ABA Dispute Resolution Conference

The 9th Annual ABA Section of Dispute Resolution Spring Conference will take place April 25-28 in Washington, DC. This is the first time in several years that there are no sessions about or featuring ombuds. Nonetheless, there are sessions that may be appealing to ombuds, especially those who also mediate:
  • Riding the Tiger: Using the Power of Emotion and Behavior in Mediation
  • ADR Throughout the Federal Government: A Current Report
  • Designing Systems to Address Conflict in Governance: How to Collaborate in Developing Policy and Managing Public Programs
  • How Conflict Coaching Works in Government ADR Programs
  • Framing and Reframing: Essential Skills for the Mediator
  • Creating a Peaceful Space: How Thoughtful Design of the Mediation Office Can Enhance the Process of Dispute Resolution
Register by March 14 for the lowest fee. (ADR in Bloom.)

February 21, 2007

Realtor Ombuds Programs Continue to Proliferate

The Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors is implementing a new ombudsman program to assist agents and members of the public by answering questions and addressing ethical issues that frequently develop in the business. The practice is growing among local realtor boards, after a pilot program by the California Association of Realtors was well-received. Realtor ombuds do not practice to IOA or USOA standards, but instead follow a National Association of Realtors (NAR) policy. Nonetheless, realtor ombuds are impartial and informal, and work to resolve misunderstandings and disagreements through facilitation rather than adjudication. (Sierra Sun News; NAR Policy on Ombudsman.)

New Ombuds at Cal State Long Beach

Betsy Decyk, who has been the interim ombuds at California State University Long Beach, has been appointed to the permanent position. Decyk was previously a professor in the Psychology and Philosophy Departments.

February 20, 2007

ICANN Ombuds Responds to Criticism

In a blog entry posted February 12, the ICANN Ombudsman, Frank Fowlie, disclosed that he had received a substantial number of contacts regarding Registerfly, an ICANN-approved provider of internet hosting and domain name registration services. Fowlie explained that issues were outside the purview of his office, but provided information for consumers to complain to another ICANN office. (ICANN Ombudsman Blog.) A subsequent article on The Register griped that Fowlie had "washed his hands" of the matter. (The Register.) Fowlie responded on his blog by clarifying his role and defending his actions. (ICANN Ombudsman Blog.) This is rare example of a public dialog involving an ombuds. (Prior Ombuds Blog post: ICAAN Ombuds Launches Blog.)

University Ombuds Still Rare in UK Due to New Judicial Process

Historically, universities in the United Kingdom have referred student complaints to an archaic appeals process overseen by a "visitor," usually a outside dignitary. Some new universities employ an ombudsman, generally classical, to address student concerns. The most recent development has been the creation of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA), which takes a non-confrontational, informal approach. Speed is essential to a smooth process and the office aims to resolve most complaints within three months. Of 147 higher education institutions, 109 joined the voluntary scheme when it commenced in March 2004. Since it was set up, the OIA has investigated just over 500 cases and resolved 195. (The Guardian; Office of the Independent Adjudicator.)

February 19, 2007

Federal Trial Court: Mediation With Ombuds Sufficient Step in Exhausting Administrative Remedies

The federal trial court in Alexandria upheld an arbitration award in favor of an employee who had alleged workplace discrimination based, in part, on the fact that the employee sought mediation with the company ombuds as required by her written employment agreement. The judge agreed that the employee had sufficiently exhausted her attempts at an administrative remedy and that the arbitration should be binding. In particular, the judge noted that the mediation with the ombuds was essentially similar to the EEOC mediation procedure. (Caci Premier Tech., Inc. v. Faraci, 464 F. Supp. 2d 527, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 89609 (E.D. Va. 2006). ) This case and others will be discussed during the "US Law & Legal Update" plenary session at the IOA annual conference.

February 17, 2007

Former East LA College Ombuds Dies

Robert "R.C." Williams III, former student ombudsman at East Los Angeles College, died February 9 at the age of 60. Most recently, Williams was vice president of student services at ELAC, and had also served as director of Disabled Student Programs and Services, director of financial aid, student ombudsman, compliance officer and dean of student services. (Whittier Daily News.)

February 16, 2007

Panel Recommends Ombuds for Maricopa Community College District

An outside panel has recommended 40 operational changes for the Maricopa County Community College District. The panel was formed following public revelations of fraudulent activity at multiple district colleges. The panel’s recommendations include creating an ombudsman position to receive employees’ allegations of malfeasance. (East Valley Tribune.) Maricopa County Community College currently has an ombuds for transfer students only.

Job Posting: St. Paul Public Schools

The ombudsperson will respond to issues regarding the district and report to the Assistant Director of Community Relations. Minimum salary is $48,078 per annum; applications are due by February 26. (SPPS Posting.)

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permamente continues to hire health care ombuds/mediators. The current opening is in Santa Clara. No closing date or salary indicated. (Hot Jobs.)

The Art of the Apology

Official apologies -- from the public sector or corporate officials -- are not easy to get, and not easy to give. As part of its on-going radio program, Life Matters, ABC (Australia) asked NSW Deputy Ombudsman, Chris Wheeler, how to give an apology. Wheeler said that apology skills need to be learned. The hour-long program, which can be downloaded, included the following advice:
  • An apology is not effective just by saying "sorry";
  • The person apologizing must take responsibility;
  • They must acknowledge the wrong and say it won't happen again;
  • The apology must be public;
  • The person apologizing must say what will be done to rectify the wrong; and
  • They must say exactly what they are sorry for (not just that it happened).
(ABC Radio National, via External Insights.)

February 15, 2007

ICANN Ombudsman Releases Report

The ICANN Office of the Ombudsman has released a report concerning the At-Large Advisory Committee and its handling of an application for At-Large Status. The Ombudsman's report contains recommendations, thus revealing how the Office of the Ombudsman works and communicates with the ICANN Board. (ICANN Announcement; Report.)

Updated List of Ombuds in Education

The list of ombuds offices in educational institutions (right-hand column) has been updated and now include 183 known offices. If yours is not included, let me know by posting a comment.

House Bill Proposes Ombuds for Accounting Oversight

Congress' reaction to the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals has forced "honest companies" to comply with "massive and tedious" requests for information, Rep. Scott Garrett said Wednesday. Garrett, R-Wantage, introduced a bill to relax some of the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley law, including creating an ombudsman's office in the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. (North Jersey Media Group.)

Insurance Co. Names Chairman's Daughter as Ombuds

BrickStreet Mutual Insurance Company, the sole provider of workers' compensation insurance in West Virginia, has hired the daughter of H. Skip Tarasuk Jr., BrickStreet's chairman. Hilary Tarasuk is an ombudsman in BrickStreet's Office of Ombudsman/Government Relations. A company spokesman defended the action, saying that Hilary Tarasuk "underwent the same application and screening process as every other BrickStreet employee," and that she will not report directly to her father. (Charleston Daily Mail; Brickstreet Ombuds FAQ.)

February 14, 2007

Gallaudet Introduces Interim Ombuds, Announces Search

Fulfilling his pledge to the university, Gallaudet President, Bob Davilla announced the appointment of an interim ombudsman. Pending a national search, the position will be filled by Edgar “Bernie” Palmer, director of the Office for Students with Disabilities. (GUFSSA Blog; related post: Gallaudet to Appoint Ombuds.)

Conflict Resolution Quarterly Calls for Papers

ACR is seeking articles for its forthcoming colloquy edition: "Emerging and Expanding Areas of Practice." Manuscripts are also encouraged on the general topic of: “Debating the Big Questions: Who are We and Where are We Going?” (CQR Website.)

February 13, 2007

Resource Book for Teaching Conflict Management

The Consortium for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Georgia State University has compiled a set of exercises for teaching conflict management. Some of the contributors are practicing ombuds:
  • Carmen McKines, "Recognizing the Nature and Sources of Conflict: Conflict Styles";
  • Mary Chavez Rudolph, "Conflict Related Roles"; and
  • Tom Sebok, "Making Conflict More Difficult to Resolve (or Learning from Common Mistakes)."
(CNRC Swap Meet Sourcebook; found via Campus-ADR Weblog.)

ICANN Ombuds Launches Blog

Frank Fowlie, the Ombudsman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has started a blog to keep the Internet community advised of issues relating to his office and travels. (ICANN Ombudsman Blog.) So far as I can tell, this is the only other blog by a practicing ombuds.

Trendspotting: Ombuds Not Exempt From Influence of Internet

I came across two seemingly unrelated, but positive items on the web today: a clandestine recording of a firing at the University of Iowa (link) and a blog by a student at the University of Victoria (link). In the first situation, the HR director advised the terminated employee that she could consult the ombuds office. In the second case, the student explained why he was satisfied with assistance from the ombuds. These are both examples of information that would not have been widely disseminated just a few years ago. Now, the growing availability of information is making institutions and the work of ombuds more transparent. Ombuds should embrace this trend by: 1. Becoming adept at finding relevant information for visitors; and 2. Exploiting the Internet to promote the profession in new ways.

February 12, 2007

Job Posting: Rochester Institute of Technology

RIT is seeking an ombuds as it transitions from an office for students only to a resource for the whole campus. According to the job description, which could serve as a model for the industry, the ombuds is "an impartial, independent, informal, and confidential conflict management resource" and reports directly to the President. No indication of salary; applications are due March 30, 2007. (RIT HR.)

Job Posting: Indiana State

Indiana State University is seeking an associate dean of students/student ombudsman. (Chronicle Jobs.) Aside from the inherent conflict of interest in wearing two hats, the job description is inconsistent with the IOA Standards of Practice. According to ISU HR, the ombuds: "Serves as an advocate for students and student concerns," and "Represents student concerns to the Dean, Vice President and senior administration." And yet, the ISU ombuds website says: "The Ombuds Office is an independent, neutral, confidential and informal resource. It does not accept formal complaints or notice for ISU." No indication of salary; applications should be submitted by March 15, 2007. (Related post: Indiana State University Ombuds Dies.)

EEOC Reports Record Number of Cases

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received a total of 75,768 discrimination charges against private sector employers, the first increase in charge filings since 2002. The statistics, show that charges based on race, sex, and retaliation (were the most frequent allegations, as in past years. (EEOC Report.) "These figures tell us that discrimination remains a persistent problem in the 21st century workplace," said EEOC Chair Naomi C. Earp. The silver lining in the report is that a record 8,201 cases were resolved through voluntary mediation. (infoZine News.)

UNR Interviewing Ombuds Candidates

In the coming weeks, the University of Nevada at Reno will be interviewing four candidates for its new ombuds office: Rita Laden, UNR Associate Vice President of Student Life; Kitty Jung, Community Liaison for the City of Reno; Daniel Roysden, Navy Chaplain, Fallon Naval Air Station; and Pamela Haney. (UNR Blog; Report on Faculty Morale.)

Lehigh Ombuds Explains Relationship to Complaint Processes

A panel of Lehigh University administrators discussed the university’s handling of disputes and complaints by students and faculty in a meeting Friday. Professor Vince Munley, the university ombudsman, explained that he deals with situations in which faculty members or students need someone of a neutral ground to help sort out a complaint. “The position of ombudsman was set up so the people would be treated fairly by ‘the crowd.’ I do not make a judgment of who’s right and who’s wrong. I’m neutral and I am not an officer of the university,” Munley said. (The Brown and White.)

February 09, 2007

Job Posting: UC Irvine

The University of California at Irvine is now accepting applications for a University Ombuds. Although not titled as such, this is the director of the Ombuds Office which serves the entire campus. The annual salary for the position range from $76,600 to $107,200. Oddly, there is no closing date for the search. (UCI HR; see also prior Ombuds Blog post re UC Ombuds.)

Lawsuits Seeking Immigration Reform Cite Ombuds Report

In June 2006, U.S. Customs and Immigration Services Ombudsman reported to Congress that more than 82,000 immigration cases had been pending longer than a year as the FBI reviewed the applications. The report said the immigration agency's policy of waiting to conduct security reviews until after immigrants have applied for legal residency "may increase the risk to national security by prolonging the time a potential criminal or terrorist remains in the country." (CIS Ombuds Report.) The ombuds report is now bolstering federal lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. (San Francisco Chronicle.)

February 08, 2007

IOA Announces Annual Conference Details

The annual IOA Conference, set for April 11th - 14th in St. Louis, Missouri, will feature keynote addresses by:
  • Michelle LeBaron, Director of the University of British Columbia Program on Dispute Resolution;
  • Daniel Shapiro, Associate Director of the Harvard Negotiation Project; and
  • Gregory Firestone, Director of the Conflict Resolution Collaborative at the the University of South Florida.
Registration is discounted before March 2. (IOA Conf. Info.)

AZ Bill Would Restrict Public Ombuds' Access

The state's ombudsman-citizens' aide [a classical ombuds] on Tuesday said a bill that would restrict his access to documents that are "protected under federal law" is broad enough to "blindfold" his office. " This position was created because we wanted open government," the official, Patrick Shannahan, told the House Committee on Government, which held the bill for further discussion. "This bill interferes with our ability to accomplish our job." HB 2563, sponsored by Rep. John Nelson, R-Glendale, also would restrict the ombudsman's access to information on government-owned facilities classified as "critical infrastructure." It would amend legislation passed last year expanding the state ombudsman's role to include reviewing public-records disputes between the public and government officials. (Arizona Daily Star.) Although the bill is limited to the Office of Ombudsman-Citizens Aide, it bears watching as a potential bellwether for organizational ombuds in the public sector. (AZ Legislative Info.)

Dartmouth Appoints Interim Ombuds

Moving quickly in response to a task force recommendation, Dartmouth College President James Wright announced the creation of a College Ombuds Office and appointed long-time administrator Mary Childers to a temporary, part-time position as ombudsman. Childers will report directly to the College President and will "work outside the grievance procedures" presently under the jurisdiction of human resources and the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office. Childers previously directed the Dartmouth Women's Resource Center and Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. (Dartmouth Online; prior Ombuds Blog post.)

DC Council to Consider Public Schools Ombuds

On February 10, the Washington, DC, Council will hold a public hearing on the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (which will transfer management and oversight authority of the public schools to the mayor). Among other things, the bill would create an Office of Ombudsman for Public Education. (Washington Post.)

Critics Question Independence of BP Ombuds

In response to allegations that BP substituted water for expensive chemical agents to prevent corrosion in its Prudhoe Bay pipelines, the company ombudsman, retired federal judge Stanley Sporkin, assembled a team of engineers and attorneys to investigate. Unfortunately, Sporkin hired a law firm – Clifford & Garde – with direct ties to BP America chair Robert Malone. Then, Sporkin did not release the results of the investigation. Naturally, this has critics, including the Alaska legislature, questioning Sporkin's independence. (Corporate Crime Reporter.) Sporkin is not a member of IOA.

February 07, 2007

After Bad News From Ombuds, Student Sues UMass

In an attempt to raise questions about grading policies, Brian Marquis filed a lawsuit against the University of Massachusetts. The dispute is over the final grade Marquis received in a philosophy class in Fall 2006. Marquis initially contacted Catharine Porter, the UMass Ombudsperson. He later received an email from Porter that said she had met with the teaching assistant and discussed the final grade scale that resulted in a C. According to her e-mail, professors at UMass can develop their own grading scale. Porter concluded the e-mail by urging Marquis "to accept this grade and continue on with your course work as there were no grounds for an academic grievance." Marquis described this statement as "highly dangerous." UMass administrators declined to comment on the pending litigation. (Daily Collegian.) Just another reminder of how dangerous email can be.
Profile of Texas Tech's Ombuds for Students

Kathryn Quilliam was appointed in 2000 as the first ombudsman for students at Texas Tech. She is the subject of a glowing profile in the campus newspaper. (Daily Toreador.)

February 05, 2007

Resources for Organizations Creating an Ombuds Office

At this point, IOA does not have a package of information for organizations considering an ombuds office. Hopefully, this is something that will become available soon. Until then, I am posting a list of the materials already online (see also column to right):
Surely, there are more resources out there. Let me know what else should be included.
Website for Using Videos to Teach ADR

The Winter 2007 edition of Dispute Resolution Magazine focuses on ADR in film. A special website was created by one of the contributors, Dwight Golann, a mediator and professor at Sufffolk University Law School. There are links to related articles and other resources. (Website.)
Dartmouth Urged to Hire Ombuds

A consortium of senior administrator tasked by Dartmouth President James Wright to address findings by external consultants McKinsey & Co., has recommended the College to create an ombuds office. "Schools as large or larger than Dartmouth usually do have an ombudsperson," said Provost Barry Scherr, chair of the hiring and retention committee. "It will provide a place where people can go with any problem of any size and have it dealt with confidentially." The McKinsey report identified inter-departmental disconnection, error-prone hiring practices and a staff perception of being "undervalued," among other factors, as limiting administrative effectiveness and the retention of promising College employees. (Dartmouth Online.)